Falls can be dangerous, but are preventable

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

by Paula Smith, Communications Manager

steadyu logoI live in a multigenerational household, including my spouse, two small children and my mother. We are also fortunate to receive frequent visits from our kids’ other grandparents – even 95-year-old great-grandpa. As it is in many homes with small children, the floors of our home are often littered with toys – matchbox cars, legos, and other small objects that bring tears to your eyes when you step on them. 

We have often talked to the kids about picking up their toys so their grandparents won’t slip and fall on them. And, we have explained that their older loved ones could be hurt very badly as a result of a fall. The image of my mother or another grandparent falling in my home has passed through my mind on more than one occasion.

But at dinner recently, the vision in my head became a reality.  My mom stepped on a toy while carrying her dinner plate.  Her legs slid out from under her and she landed face down on the floor.  Fortunately, the only causalities of the accident were a broken plate and wasted food.  Nonetheless, it was a reminder of how dangerous falls can be for older adults – they can result in hospitalization, serious injury, permanent loss of independence, even death.

In fact, falls are the leading cause of injury-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths for Ohioans age 65 and older. Consider:

  • An older adult falls every minute on average in Ohio, resulting in three deaths each day, two hospitalizations each hour and an ED visit every six and one-half minutes.
  • Older adults account for only 16 percent of Ohio citizens; however, they account for 85 percent of fatal falls.
  • From 2000 to 2015, Ohioans aged 65 and older experienced a 201 percent increase in the number of fatal falls.

It’s important to remember, however, that falls are NOT a normal part of aging – and they are preventable.  

At Council on Aging, we work to prevent falls among the 20,000-plus clients we serve by conducting in-home falls risk assessments. We also offer community-based workshops, such as A Matter of Balance, to help older adults learn practical strategies to prevent falls.

On an individual level, older adults can reduce their risk of falling by focusing on the “Three H’s:”

Home: Falls prevention begins at home. Making your home safer can start with minor changes –decluttering or clearing walkways, securing/removing rugs, and improving lighting in dark spaces, for example.  If you plan to stay in your home for the long-term, you might also consider safety modifications such as grab bars in the bathroom, ramps or handrails on stairways.

Health: From exercise and nutrition to health care and medications, your health can play a big role in helping to prevent falls.  Simple, at-home exercises and good nutrition can strengthen bones and muscles to prevent falls. Talk to your healthcare provider about vision screening and assistive devices (walkers, canes, life alert devices) and review your list of medications to learn about possible interactions or side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness.

Habits: Preventing falls sometimes can be as simple as adopting new habits or breaking bad ones. For example, move slowly when standing up from a chair or bed, carry a cell phone when you are out alone, and consider your driving habits and whether or not they are still safe.

For more information on the Three H’s and other fall prevention tips, visit our fall prevention partner, Steady U Ohio.

For the past several years, Steady U Ohio has led a successful campaign to increase public awareness of fall prevention. The “10 Million Steps to Prevent Falls” campaign coincides with National Fall Prevention Awareness Day, which falls on Saturday, Sept. 22. On Friday, Sept. 21, for the fourth year in a row, STEADY U Ohio is inviting all Ohioans to take 10 Million Steps to Prevent Falls. The goal is to get as many Ohioans as possible to walk at least one mile in the name of fall prevention. Last year, 4,935 Ohioans walked more than 22,000 miles – that’s more than 56 million steps to prevent falls.

Here’s how you can participate in the 10 Million Steps campaign:

  1. Participate in a "10 Million Steps" event. STEADY U Ohio partners with community organizations to sponsor local walking events with information and resources to help you prevent falls.  To find an event or create your own event, go to the Steady U Ohio website. At Council on Aging (COA), our staff will help Ohio reach its goal by walking a mile (four laps around the parking lot).
  2. Any time in September, take a one-mile walk by yourself or with family or friends, and post a selfie of your efforts to social media using the hashtags #PreventFalls and #10MStepsOH. Posts will be counted toward the state's goal.

For more information on fall prevention, visit Steady U Ohio. There you’ll find tips, resources, even a falls risk assessment, for families, caregivers, older adults, healthcare and other professionals who work with older adults.